Material for Worship on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

It is reported that there has been a surge in people of all ages engaging with online religious activities since our places of worship have been closed. A recent survey found that a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service during the crisis and that one in twenty have started praying. One in five of these have never attended church.

I wonder what your response is to these findings. As you light your candle and prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, let us take a moment to think about those in our lives who may not know God but who perhaps sense that there is more to life than what they experience.

The people of Athens in our reading from the Book of Acts today (Acts 17.23-31) were seeking something more, but they didn’t know what they were looking for. As you read, imagine what it was like for Paul as he looked across to the Acropolis with its spectacular temples representing all kinds of ideas and religious cults. As a devout Jew, the thought of idol worship must have horrified him but at the same time, he realized that the many buildings dedicated to worship were a sign that this city was full people looking for God.

So he takes the Athenian custom of dedicating altars to unknown gods as a starting point to expand the minds of his listeners. ‘I’m not talking about just any old unknown god’, he says. ‘I’m talking about the God behind the gods, the Creator of the universe. This is a God none of us can claim to fully know because God is beyond even the most beautiful visual images, the most elaborate rituals, the most venerable traditions. This God can’t be contained in a temple, he doesn’t belong to a particular nation or culture, he is beyond ethnic divisions, he is beyond religion, he is beyond the grasp of our intellect, beyond the furthest reaches of our imagination. And yet this God is also unimaginably close to us, closer than our own breathing, for in him we live and move and have our being’.

Paul creates a picture of a God who can be known and wants to be known and yet remains hidden from so many. As you read our Gospel reading today (John 14.15-21), you’ll see a similar picture. Jesus at the Last Supper is responding to the anxious questions of his disciples about their future and his. No, they will not be left like orphaned children, he says. The risen Christ will make his presence known to them through the Spirit. They will know that they are loved by God but other people will be oblivious to him.

Often, what we see depends on what we bring to that experience of seeing. When I look at a Scottish mountainscape, I see wonderful scenery but I am unable to identify the individual peaks because, unlike some of you, I haven’t studied them on a map, I haven’t read about them, I haven’t spent enough time amongst them, climbing them, getting to know them.

A person needs to get to know God to be able to identify his presence in their lives and in the world around them. And the way to get to know God is by learning about Jesus. Through reading the Gospels and through living in his company every day, we can have a very clear idea of what God is like. We can see that God is compassionate and forgiving, totally honest and good, that God stands up for what is right. We can see that God looks for the good in us and doesn’t condemn us or give up on us. We can see in the cross and resurrection that God will love us to the end of our lives and beyond.

If we put our faith in that God, the God that Jesus revealed to us, if we trust his promises and respond to his love, then our lives will be shaped by his presence within us. In response to our prayers, God’s spirit will work through us, giving us the resources to continue Jesus’ mission in the world, enabling us to do what he has done and more. We will live out God’s love every day of our lives even when obedience is difficult and we are called in directions we may not have taken by comfortable choice.

And other people will take notice—especially those in our lives who have kept the windows of their hearts open to the possibility of God, hoping one day to find him. What Paul does in Athens is to throw some light into those open windows. We are called to do the same. We are called to live in such a way that enables the hidden God to reveal himself through us. This week my prayer is that through our words and actions, through the way we respond to situations in lockdown, we can be used as a means for those who are seeking God to find him.

Collect for today God, from whom all good thing arise; grant such grace to those who call on you, that by your inspiration, we may ponder those things that are right, and by your guidance, do them; through, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

[Our intercessions have been prepared by John Hamilton who is a scientist and our Christian Aid representative. They have been inspired by Christian Aid Week resources and New Scientist Value of Vaccines supplement.]

Lord God, as support for Christian Aid Week reaches out and protects our neighbours in the world today, unite us with love as corona virus is still spreading across our communities, protect us as we show kindness to our neighbours, help us provide soap, clean water and medical supplies to our neighbours in the developing world, encourage responsible consumption and production of staple foodstuffs.
With people of all faiths and none, we stand up for dignity, equality and justice for our neighbours near and far.
God is good, all of the time. All of the time, God is good.

Loving Lord, as debates are ongoing about the recovery from Covid-19, encourage cooperation in the development of vaccines, keep the cost of vaccines affordable in all countries, facilitate the high uptake of vaccines, to provide community immunity.
Vaccines have the incredible superpower of protecting whole communities rather than just the individual.
God is good, all of the time. All of the time, God is good.

Heavenly Father, as we approach Ascension Day, allow us to rest in your grace and seek your vision, love us as we follow your commandments, lead us as your children, to new ways to worship you, the one God, with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Amen